Watch the Urbana 12 PANA Lounge Talks

During Urbana 12 (tri-ennial student missions conference), InterVarsity’s Asian American Ministries (AAM) hosted a Pan Asian North American (PANA) Lounge and platformed a speaker-series from leading Asian & Asian North American ministry leaders. Each talk was 8-minutes long, inspired by the short-form talks popularized by the likes of TED, TEDx, and Q.

One of the more provocative ones was Greg Hsu‘s intriguing talk, titled: “Asian North Americans: Divided by God?” or, more bluntly, “Why don’t non-Christian Asian Americans like our Asian fellowship?“

The IVCF AAM blog is posting a new video every day for the next 3 weeks. Watch them there >>

James Choung introduces the speakers-series and how Asian Americans can be redeeming our gifts.

The model minority myth is a lie.

Nate Lee (staffworker of InterVarsity’s Cal Christian Fellowship at UC Berkeley) shared this talk ‘The Moral Model Minority‘ at the Urbana 12 Pan Asian North American (PANA) Lounge on 12/31/2012. Adapted from an article published October 2012 in hardboiled, the Asian Pacific American issues newsmagazine at UC Berkeley. (Posted with permission.)

My father calls himself “jooksing.” Meaning, empty bamboo; all form, no substance. Says that when he was a kid, when he would hang out at my grandpa’s convenience store, all of my grandpa’s friends would call my dad that—jooksing. He can never be truly Chinese because of his American values, his abandonment of dental school dreams, because of his fractured Cantonese; He can never be truly American because of how he looks—he is stuck in the perpetual in-between. The scary thing about floating in the in between is that you become susceptible to lies from either side.

Many of us have given into the lies. This talk is titled, “the moral model minority.” I hope to show how the model minority myth and our compliance with it, has solidified these lies in our minds, and how the MORAL model minority myth, the lies in our theology, has solidified them in our hearts and souls. I believe Asian American Christians, if we are not aware of it, are even more vulnerable to the lies than our non-believing Asian brothers and sisters.

Raise your hand if you play piano or violin. Why do so many Asians play violin and piano? Why not the gu-zhen or the er-hu? We have mastered the epitome of the West’s art form. We have become more talented and more skilled at the finest of Western arts. We made it! But who will play the guzhen?

A motif of the Old Testament narrative is for the Israelites to remember. Remember who you are and who God made you to be. The unfortunate truth is that the higher we want to move up in society, the more we must think, act, and talk like dominant culture. There is a negative correlation between success and the maintenance of our ethnic identity. The arc of society is for us to forget.

For better or worse, we have moved up, and many of us have forgotten. Majority culture has told us that we have succeeded without any handouts, and we have responded with a resounding “Amen!” without realizing that our alliance with the dominant culture has forfeited our identity and implicitly cast an indictment on other minority groups. Many Asian American Christians, finding that their Confucian values of hard work, personal achievement, and frugality aligned with the Protestant work ethic, have in fact replaced the Gospel with the American Dream.

Not only do we interact with a society that tells us to forget, but our theology furthers our ethnic amnesia. Church historian Tim Tseng calls it the “evangelical deconstruction of Asian America” where “our earthly identities ultimately do not matter because our Christian identity is our most important one.” The church often says, “Forget!” You’re not an Asian American Christian, you’re just a Christian who happens to be Asian American. Perhaps in our pursuit to, as Paul says, “be one in Christ,” we have actually silenced our own unique stories and become cookie cutter Christians who offer nothing unique to the feast of God.

We did not choose our parents, our culture, our ethnicity. These are gifts from God. Perhaps our faith opens us up to live most fully into the distinct people he created us to be. But this is scary. It’s easy to have a list of what a Christian looks like, how a Christian is to worship, what kind of songs, what kind of dress, what kind of behavior. But to say that faith opens us to live most fully into who God uniquely created us to be, well that means that we’re free. And those whom Christ sets free are free indeed.

We have a story. Many of us have forgotten about the pain and suffering. We have forgotten that many of the ethnic churches we grew up in were built because many white churches did not worship a God big enough to integrate their worship spaces. Our churches therefore became ethnic community centers where we could receive language training, develop job networks, and obtain positions of leadership. However, instead of continuing to identify as marginalized and expressing our faith in a way that promoted justice (like many Black and Latino churches have), we clung to our upward mobility, adopted a white, Western theology, moved to the suburbs, called it God’s blessing, and began to view the world from a distance, through a privileged lens.

We must remember that the Bible was written for marginalized communities in diaspora, not for privileged folks whose greatest fear in life is failing their classes. We cannot forget that Jesus was a poor refugee, that he represented a Jewish people who were oppressed by Roman imperialists, and that he led a revolution called The Way that stood in stark opposition to the status quo. But we don’t want to believe this, because to believe in this Jesus threatens our hard-earned success. So we nail him to a cross and we crucify our own identities and narratives along with him.

The Asian American Christian community must reclaim its identity. We must realize that God has given us a unique narrative, a unique history, a unique face, and that his desire is for us to live more fully into the people he has created us to be. This has everything to do with the Gospel. God is making all things right, making all things full and new and how he created them to be. Let us not be like the one who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets who they are.

The model minority myth is a lie. It is another way of saying that we’re dominant culture’s favorite slaves—the slaves that everyone else should emulate. Because we’re the master’s favorite, we get to eat at their table, take their jobs, and yes, even play their instruments. But guess what, we’re still slaves. But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Perhaps we have been institutionalized in the prison of our own success. And when Christ comes to set us free, we cling to our own chains. Jesus says, “Those who lose their lives will find it.” We are so afraid to lose what we have gained, afraid to follow Jesus into the frightening, open, exhilarating space he calls the way. I long for the day we can throw off our chains, when we can love our eyes and our story and God’s face behind our own. I long for the day when my father will no longer call himself jooksing, but will be filled with the knowledge of the light of Christ, the light by which all other aspects of our self are illuminated and fulfilled. Amen.

Demystifying Asian American Culture and Ministry

Adrian and Jennifer Pei presented this talk, “Demystifying Asian American Culture and Ministry” at an Epic Movement (the Asian American Ministry of Cru) event. They address issues of demystifying Asian American culture, challenges of ministry to Asian Americans, and the incredible opportunity of Asian American ministry.

Demystifying Asian American Culture and Ministry (Full Version) from Epic Movement Live on Vimeo.

It’s a Small World After All

Vivian Mabuni shared her keen observation of just how subtle a Euro-centric Caucasian-worldview comes through even an amusement park ride at world-famous Disneyland, It’s a Small World. Here’s an excerpt from her blog post Small World Through My Almond Eyes, and how that worldview colors our theology too:

Even though the ride was created to illustrate the whole world, the world was presented as primarily a white Euro-centric world. A full three minutes of this ten minute ride focused on Europe. The Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America were all covered in 30-45 seconds each …

… The final section of the ride was when all the dolls, dressed in white, sang together intermingled. I thought about the world’s current population. If the ride was true to actual cultural and ethnic breakdown, one-third of the dolls would be from India and China alone. Only 13% of the dolls in the white section would be white.

… since the vast majority of the Christian books I’ve read have been authored by Caucasian men, the vast majority of church history I’ve been taught have been about Caucasian men, and the vast majority of Christian leaders I’ve seen and heard from have been Caucasian men, I kind of picture heaven full of Caucasian men.

Read the entire post >>

Current Success and Future Failure

[a guest post from Timothy Lo, reposted with permission]

I write this from my own limited experience and observations… obviously limited to what I’ve seen and from talking to others.  And probably more relevant in the non-CA or TX areas of the US.

Since the early 1990’s there have been a lot of new churches that quickly started up and grabbed my attention.  For example, you might have heard of some of them like Redeemer Presbyterian in NY, Parkwood Community in IL, Liquid in NJ, and High Rock in MA.  God is doing a lot of great things in these churches, as is evident by how he is growing them in attendance, spiritual depth, and positive influence in their communities.  They are often marked by excellence in their ministries across the board: worship music, preaching, media, child care, fellowship, small groups, outreach, welcoming to newcomers, etc.  But it is the appeal of being part of such churches that has hurt and continues to damage the future of the children of immigrant Chinese.

What do the children of immigrant Chinese have to do with these churches?  Well from what I can tell these 2nd generation American born Chinese (ABC) as we call them have been greatly attracted to these newer churches.  And this greatly affects their attendance and participation in their home churches.

[This is a skippable section if you have less patience or time]

Let’s get this straight: immigrant Chinese churches haven’t always been good at keeping ABC’s with their churches (the history of this is pretty recent, since many Chinese churches in America are less than 50 years old).  This is a whole other topic in itself, but to summarize it, immigrants started churches, eventually they needed some English parts to it for their kids, they have childcare, children’s programs, then youth groups, and then eventually an English service.  The problem comes when the kids graduate high school.  I’m totally generalizing, but let’s say that roughly less than half of these kids stay with the faith, and out of the other half, maybe only half of those go to church weekly.  And out of those young adults (25% of the original teenagers) that go to church weekly, only some of them go to their home immigrant church, since many others go to the mainstream (white) American church somewhere else.

Now that may just be a typical rate of attrition in youth groups, which is also another whole issue for another time.  What I want to focus on is the fact that there are a bunch that do not go back to their home church, sometimes they just don’t feel the connection there anymore, it could be that they are dating or more comfortable with non-Asians, or for whatever other reason.  But then those who DO go back to their home church, they oftentimes face a lot of struggles there.

In a typical immigrant Chinese church, the primary purpose and mission is to minister to immigrant Chinese.  By extension, their secondary goal is to minister to the kids of the immigrants.  So children and youth programs are an important part of their ministry.  However, when young adults come back to the church, now not only wanting to assert themselves as independent, responsible adults but also with tons of Americanized values which are different than the Chinese, there is conflict.  I have rarely seen an immigrant Chinese congregation and an English speaking and led congregation work together in harmony, cohesion, and with equal authority and fellowship.  In many larger Chinese churches, the two sides (ooops, I mean, “groups”) just tolerate each other, and give each other large amounts of independence and freedom, and that’s called getting along (very eastern: “solidarity in conflict”).  It’s very much like two separate churches just worshiping in the same building–different ministries, schedules, programs, equipment, rooms, worship services, etc.

But in those medium and smaller sized Chinese churches, what I’ve seen happen is when these ABC’s come back to their home churches to serve their youth groups, they are underappreciated in their service, they get burnt out by constant requests and blame, they feel like 2nd class citizens (whether or not the immigrant congregation views them as such or not), there is no one to mentor or disciple them, they don’t have fellowship with other peers, and they wonder, why don’t I just go to that other church down the street that will care for me and love me (yes, it’s a consumeristic mentality) instead of this one that always asks me to help with the youth or children and never cares for how I am doing spiritually?

And then on top of that, and this is my real issue, there are all these new, really cool churches that have started up, full of other ABC’s (and ABK’s, Koreans).  They are intentional, they care for you and minister to your needs, they have excellence in their ministries, they are made up of tons of young adults just like you to fellowship with, and they are typically attended by the more dedicated group of Christians that are left over from the weeding out process in college.

We are thankful for these churches, that serve these American born Chinese who might be poorly ministered to by their home churches.  Perhaps we in the immigrant Chinese church need to do a better job of creating a place where young adults can come back to.  But, meanwhile, because these churches are ministering so well to all these ABC’s, there are fewer than ever coming back to their home churches.

It was hard enough that only a small percentage of our graduating youth would come back, as far as continuing to grow and strengthen the youth and adult English presence.  But now, with the existence of these new, good churches, the few kids that would have come back are not.  They’re getting fed somewhere else now, but that leaves the immigrant Chinese church with fewer role models and ministry leaders, resulting in weaker English speaking ministries.

Is your church one of these places where the spiritually stronger young adults from immigrant Chinese (or Korean) churches are going?  If so, realize that though that may be good for your church, it may also be hurting the future of the next generation of teens from these immigrant churches.  Without at least some American born Chinese students willing to go back to their home church to minister to the next round of students, our youth ministries get weaker, and result in fewer healthy adults.  And that might mean that 10 years from now, there will not be the comparable influx of ABC young adults that have joined your congregation in the past 10 years.

As an example, I am the only 2nd generation ABC in my church who serves with the youth group.  But there are over 40 kids who are craving to be ministered to.  So most will go through all 6-7 years of middle and high school without anyone regularly leading a small group, meeting up with them, walking them through their spiritual questions, or setting an example of “this is what you can look like when you grow up, as an American born Chinese Christian.”  I am very thankful for the many parents who help out in the youth ministry when they can (the cultural challenges for them to help out in the youth ministry are much greater than in a typical white American church).  But unfortunately the number of ABC’s that we have coming back to our church is sometimes very few, or often, none.  And that is crippling the future for these youth.

I’m torn, because I cannot “blame” these new churches for what they are doing.  They are in fact doing a great job of ministering to the 2nd generation ABC’s.  But on the other hand, our Chinese church ministries continue to be hurt by fewer of our graduating students coming back.

I guess I am just praying and hoping for these 3 things:

  1. That these newer churches realize and are sensitive to this dynamic
  2. That Chinese churches can figure out how to adjust to this (design youth ministries to say bye to our kids after graduating or try to create a place where ABC’s would be more welcome?)
  3. That God would put it on the hearts of those who were blessed by their youth group experience to come back and be that mentor and role model to the next generation

From Duty-orientation…. to Delight-orientation

[a guest post by Daniel Lee, Asian American Theology & Ministry Initiative Coordinator, Fuller Theological Seminary]

Many East Asian Americans suffer from a spirituality that’s oriented towards the fulfillment of duty. The Confucian heritage is organized in terms of duty fulfillment. If you want to be a good parent and not bring shame upon yourself and your family, you fulfill your duty by sacrificing for your children. If you want to be a good child and not bring shame upon yourself and your family, you fulfill your duty by sacrificing for your parents. Parental sacrifice is reciprocated with filial piety. Since the version of Confucian culture that people are familiar with is an informal, populist one, fulfilling our duty is considered good regardless of our inner disposition.

Think of the immigrant parent who says that they have come to America and have worked in the excruciating and humiliating conditions in the inner-city grocery store or dry cleaners for their children. Their sacrifice demands that their children respond in obedience, sacrifice, and maybe even outstanding achievement. (By the way, this is the larger context in which to understand the whole “Tiger Mom” thing.) This linking of parental sacrifice and filial piety means that the love of parents isn’t necessarily free. Their sacrifice comes at a cost to the children. What seems benign or possibly socially fitting in this familial context becomes pernicious in the spiritual realm.

The cross of Christ could be misinterpreted in this duty-orientation. The cross can be the great parental sacrifice, which requires a reciprocate response of filial piety. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the debt of filial piety. Ever wonder why for some Asian Americans the message of God’s great sacrifice on the cross is so burdensome? If Christ’s sacrifice isn’t really free, but obligate a reciprocating response, it can be most oppressive.

Some defend this way of thinking with their misunderstanding of “costly grace”. Even for Bonhoeffer, who coined this term, costly grace was still always free. He was correcting a wrong understanding of justification by faith; he was not doing away with justification. That would simply be apostasy to think that we must pay for grace in some way, as if the cost for grace comes from us somehow.

Biblically, this duty-orientation is the spirituality of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal son: Fulfillment of duty without the inner disposition. Most Asian Americans resemble more of the elder son and not the prodigal son. Like the Pharisees, they are upright, moral, even obedient, but they are only fulfilling duty, without really loving God. For these “faithful” committed servants, their service is burdensome and joyless. In their hearts, they make God into a demon, which command obedience and sacrifice while threatening displeasure, judgment and hell. They will not be able to serve forever if this is their foundation. Or they will continually have to beat themselves up with fear and shame in order to keep on serving.

Only when you know that you don’t have to take care of God like some elderly parent, can we really serve, worship, and obey freely and joyously. You can only fulfill your duty to God by going through the door of delight.

An open letter to Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin: you don’t have to be Tim Tebow

by Timothy Lo on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 3:20pm

I’ve been seeing and hearing lots of comments about Lin in the NBA being like Tebow in the NFL. I’m not sure exactly what the correlation is supposed to be, except that it probably has something to do with being a Christian. But I, personally, don’t want Lin to be the Tebow of the NBA…

I think many Asian-Americans, especially males, have tried to fit into America and are still trying to be accepted by the general Caucasian culture (or the African-American culture, as it might be in the NBA). In that sense, I hope that Lin doesn’t feel the pressure to BE like anyone, but just be himself. I actually get choked up when I see his highlights, because Lin is shattering the typical Asian-American stereotypes (he’s not an immigrant like Yao Ming, Dice-K, or many others) that I grew up with. If his success continues, he will redefine perception and be a trailblazer himself. I don’t know what it looks like, or what it will do for Asian-Americans. But he has much more on his shoulders and in his potential than Tim Tebow does, because he is not only Christian, but an Asian-American Christian.

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